Having braved the hordes at Gatwick passport control and security -during which my hand luggage was searched to within an inch of its over-packed life-I hopped onto a bar stool in the departures lounge and reached for a glass of cool Chablis. It was then that a piercing alarm reverberated through the terminal, followed by an announcement that we should all make our way to an emergency exit. This had to be a joke, didn’t it?
There were no uniformed officials nor police officers heckling passengers towards exits, no panic, no sense of crisis. I took a gulp of wine and debated whether to react. The problem was that I was tired. Uncharacteristically this was my fourth trip back to Blighty in a month and I was not enjoying the travel experience, the getting there and back part. The in-between bit was fine. As the alarm continued to agitate I thought back to my days of weekly commuting. Up until four years ago I would hop back and forth between rural Majorca and London, often on a weekly basis, to run my business. Back then, the concept of commuting would have suited me better if I’d had a pair of wings or a magic broom. What really riled were the delays, cancellations, queuing, and waiting at airports, all of which seemed like a huge waste of time. Time that could be used more productively back in Majorca in the sunshine.
The only compensation for such hassle was getting to know a host of other regular commuters whom I christened the easyJet commuters club (the ECC) and what an eclectic group it was-and still is today. A film producer, financier, a couple of PR company bosses, engineer, publishing entrepreneur, property consultant and minder to the wealthy. At least meeting up with a member of the ECC made the journey a great deal more pleasurable and offered a chance to catch up on news.
As the bartender quickly locked up shop, I noticed that people had begun streaming towards the exits in a shambolic bubble. With no one to guide them they resembled a herd of forlorn sheep in need of a tail wagging Lassie. Reluctantly I followed the uncoordinated crowd to a heavy emergency exit through which people poured, descending a deep helter-skelter staircase to heaven knows where. All I did know was that there would be no return as the door was on a heavy spring mechanism. I held back. Others did too. It still felt like an elaborate joke.
Some time later, the alarm stopped. I set off back through the abandoned departures hall hoping to savour my glass of wine before the gate was called. The poor chumps who’d obediently left by the emergency door to ground level apparently had delays of up to an hour fighting their way back through security while the rest of us roamed empty bars and restaurants with partially consumed drinks and food left abandoned on tables as if from a scene on the Marie Céleste. None of us ever discovered what the fuss had been about. There was neither an announcement nor explanation given so just as well it hadn’t been a real emergency then.
As it happened my flight was, for the third time this month, delayed by two hours. An excuse to have another glass of wine but also a stark reminder as to why I’m so happy that my commuting days are well and truly over.
First published http://my.telegraph.co.uk/expat/annanicholas/10143595/euro-commuting-isn%E2%80%99t-for-the-faint-hearted/
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